Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party

Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party
A video showed Kursat Ayvatoglu snorting cocaine in a car. The rising star in the ruling AKP was close to senior members of the party including Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 30 March 2021

Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party

Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party
  • After initially claiming it was powdered sugar, AKP member Kursat Ayvatoglu admits he was in fact snorting cocaine and that he is a dealer too

ANKARA: The Turkish government faced a tough challenge over the weekend after a video of Kursat Ayvatoglu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was publicized on social media where he was seen snorting what is believed to be cocaine in a luxury car.

The news coincided with more than 400 kilograms of heroin being seized in south-eastern Turkey and more than 3.8 tons of marijuana seized in the country’s north-west in separate operations. 

Although Ayvatoglu initially defended himself against drug charges by claiming he was just snorting powdered sugar that looks like cocaine as a joke, he later admitted in an official letter that he was a drug user and dealer. 

Ayvatoglu’s cocaine use along with his ultra-luxurious lifestyle, that goes against the Islamist values that are promoted by the AKP, drew anger from every segment of the society, except for the AKP voters.

Several photos showed Ayvatoglu, in his 20s, using drugs, gambling, taking bubble baths, driving luxury cars that are not affordable with a parliamentary staff salary and consuming alcohol – a lifestyle often criticized and sometimes criminalized by the AKP.

He was detained on March 26 and dismissed from his post at the AKP. Ayvatoglu is known as the adviser to AKP vice-chairman Hamza Dag with several photos showing him closely assisting the lawmaker in meetings and keeping an eye on him at all times, although Dag rejects the claims.

“The employment contract of the person in question who has been working as bureau personnel at the headquarters for almost one year, has been ended,” Dag announced in a tweet on Friday.

Ayvatoglu, who was employed there for about 3,000 Turkish liras ($370) per month, said in his press statement that he stood on the side of prominent politicians from the AKP in order to get strength and “open new doors for him.” 

Several photos of Ayvatoglu with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as other figures of the government also sparked widespread outrage.

“They want to politicize the issue,” Soylu said in reaction to the allegations of corruption.

After being released on condition of judicial control the day after, he was again arrested on March 28 after harsh criticisms on social media and the testimonies of other individuals who were in the same car and who confirmed he was using cocaine. 

“I’m the victim here. I was blackmailed. I’ll file a complaint against this,” he said, adding that those who leaked the video were trying to get some money in exchange for deleting the footage. 

Opposition lawmaker and a lawyer by profession Haluk Peksen submitted an inquiry to the investigative prosecutor about the origins of Ayvatoglu’s wealth. 

“Why was a forensic medicine examination not conducted? Why isn’t there a single questioning about corrupt assets? What is the source of his wealth? Did he provide someone else “powdered sugar” as well? Are there any more “powdered sugar” stockpiles?,” he asked. 

The legislation requires the chief prosecutor to examine the assets of the suspects without getting permission. However, there is still no public declaration about whether this examination will be conducted.

In contrast, last week, a court sentenced Turkish rapper “Burry Soprano” to four years and two months in prison for “inciting drug use” in his song lyrics and video clips. In May 2018, another famous rapper named Ezhel was also arrested on the same charges. He was acquitted in his first hearing in June 2018. 

Ayvatoglu’s case exposed a much deeper youth profile in Turkish politics, especially those who appear to be affiliated with the government. 

“Powdered sugar has become a symbol of a problematic ‘human profile’ that has emerged in the last 20 years in Turkey and has spread especially among the youth. Even if they do not believe in the AKP’s ideas, ideology or lifestyle, they always side with them. They talk about conservatism, nationalism, the Ottoman period, and they make Rabia salute of the Muslim Brotherhood in their social media posts,” Deniz Zeyrek, a dissident journalist, wrote in his column at Sozcu newspaper. 

“They are labeling those who criticize the government, who talk about the injustice and double-standard practices of being a “traitor” or “immoral.” But they are doing their job in the background too and they are benefitting from all the blessings of power. They are getting rich. If they are in trouble, they take shelter in the shadow of the leader, the party. If necessary, they lie without hesitation or even hit the bottom of demagoguery.”


Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
Updated 11 May 2021

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
  • The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday
  • Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver

LONDON: A juvenile minke whale that became stranded in London’s River Thames has been put down after its condition deteriorated and vets decided it could not survive in the open water.
The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday and was washed ashore at a set of gates controlling water flow.
Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver, instead of toward the sea.
“The last 45 minutes we were with the whale its condition was deteriorating, its breathing wasn’t right and it wouldn’t have survived much longer,” BDMLR national coordinator Julia Cable said late Monday.
She said vets from London Zoo injected a “large” anaesthetic dose into the malnourished whale. It is thought the whale got separated from its mother and was unable to fend for itself.
“It’s always sad, but we now know that putting it back out into the open sea would have been sending it to starve out there,” Cable said.
Minke whales are the smallest of the world’s great whales and typically grow to a length of 10 meters in adulthood.
They can usually be found throughout the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans but have been spotted as far north as the Arctic and as far south as the Equator.
In January 2006, a northern bottlenose whale became stuck in the Thames, sparking huge media interest. It died as it was being ferried back out to sea.


Youngest Dubai DJ scratches her way to fame in world contest

Michelle Rasul flashes a rockstar sign in the lobby of her apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP)
Michelle Rasul flashes a rockstar sign in the lobby of her apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP)
Updated 11 May 2021

Youngest Dubai DJ scratches her way to fame in world contest

Michelle Rasul flashes a rockstar sign in the lobby of her apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP)

DUBAI: Michelle Rasul had just learned to read and write and was already spinning turntables, scratching hip-hop records and making the beats drop. Four years later, at the age of 9, she’s one of the world’s top DJs and competed in this year’s global championship.

At her home in the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai, the turntable whiz from Azerbaijan nodded her baseball cap-adorned head to the beat and showed off her skills scratching, cutting and fading. Her tiny fingers flew across the turntable as she created a sizzling landscape of electric audio effects and recalled how she got her start as a child turntable celebrity — which, in fact, wasn’t all that long ago.

“I looked at my dad while he was practicing DJ-ing and I saw him and was like, ‘Wow, is he doing magic or something? He’s a real magician, bro!’” Michelle told The Associated Press earlier this week, bubbling with enthusiasm. “When I turned 5 on my birthday, I told him, ‘Dad, I want to be a world famous DJ. I’m going to start practicing.’”

As though recounting a decades-long career, she grinned and added: “And the rest is history.”

Michelle, the youngest-ever contestant in the DMC World DJ Championship, ranked 14th out of 85 DJ stars from around the world in the “Portablist” category this year, the global portable scratch competition. The 2021 competition was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although she didn’t advance to the next round this time, she’s determined to beat her father, Vagif “DJ Shock” Rasulov, a professional who taught her the tricks of the trade and made 9th this year, in next year’s competition.

“I love competing in battles, I just love DJ-ing,” she said. “It’s my passion.”

Turntabling, which burst onto the music scene from hip-hop artists in the late 1970s, can look like a basic act — taking a record, putting the needle down and sliding it back and forth with one’s fingertips. But for the wizards, it’s an art form, involving spontaneous sound mixing and advanced techniques like quick, rhythmic scratches and “crabs,” rubbing the record under the needle.

From the moment her parents gave her a mini DJ starter kit, they recognized her extraordinary abilities. Even as a baby, she was fascinated and would punch all the buttons on her father’s equipment.

“She just catches things so fast,” said her mother Sadia Rasulova, a former violinist who also encouraged Michelle’s love of music. “I realized that she’s a star, that she’s really talented.”

When her peers were listening to nursery rhymes, or as she put it, “’Baby Shark’ stuff or ABC songs,” Michelle said she was hooked on rap legends like Tupac Shakur, Chuck D, Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G. and Michael Jackson, who remains her favorite.

Her parents started posting footage of her scratching online, and Michelle’s popularity exploded. Her Instagram account and persona as the self-described ” youngest DJ in the world,” has racked up 110,000 followers. Online messages from aspiring DJs ages 6 to 65 poured in from around the globe, she said.

Michelle’s feed is populated with posts of her break dancing and scratching furiously alongside her sunglasses-sporting father, spinning hip-hop and techno tunes live for her listeners, strumming the bass in her free time and playing at events such as Dubai’s recent food festival. Before the pandemic put big gatherings on hold, Michelle performed regularly at weddings, parties and music festivals across the city.

While the rest of the world is focused on her accomplishments as a DJ star, Michelle is busy bouncing through life as a third-grader, attending online school, skateboarding, reading and hanging out with friends and dogs at her neighborhood park. But her heart is always in her turntabling.

“I can’t imagine my life without music,” she said. “Like from the start, from the very beginning, when I was really little.”


Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer
Updated 09 May 2021

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer
  • News of Bo's passing was shared by Obama and his wife Michelle on Instagram
  • Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was a gift to the Obamas from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

WASHINGTON: Former President Barack Obama’s dog Bo died Saturday after a battle with cancer, the Obamas said on social media.
News of Bo’s passing was shared by Obama and his wife Michelle on Instagram, where both expressed sorrow at the passing of a dog the former president described as a “true friend and loyal companion.”
“He tolerated all the fuss that came with being in the White House, had a big bark but no bite, loved to jump in the pool in the summer, was unflappable with children, lived for scraps around the dinner table, and had great hair,” Barack Obama wrote.
Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was a gift to the Obamas from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a key supporter of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign who became close to the family. Bo helped Obama keep a promise to daughters Malia and Sasha that they could get a dog after the election.
A companion dog, Sunny, joined the family in August 2013.
Both were constant presences around the White House and popular among visitors there, often joining the Obamas for public events. The dogs entertained crowds at the annual Easter Egg Roll and Bo occasionally joined first lady Obama to welcome tourists. The dogs also cheered wounded service members, as well as hospitalized children the first lady would visit each year just before Christmas.
In a post featuring a slideshow of images of Bo — including one of him sitting behind the president’s Resolute Desk in the Oval Office — first lady Obama recounted his years bringing some levity to the White House.
“He was there when Barack and I needed a break, sauntering into one of our offices like he owned the place, a ball clamped firmly in his teeth. He was there when we flew on Air Force One, when tens of thousands flocked to the South Lawn for the Easter Egg Roll, and when the Pope came to visit,” she wrote.
First lady Obama wrote that she was grateful for the time the family got to spend with him due to the pandemic, and said that over the past year, “no one was happier than Bo.”
“All his people were under one roof again,” she wrote.

 


Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway
Al-Qassar village consists of old buildings and is located in the south of Farasan Island. (Supplied)
Updated 08 May 2021

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway
  • Al-Qassar village becomes a top destination for those seeking moderate climates and potable water

MAKKAH: The village of Al-Qassar — located 5 kilometers away from the Farasan governorate — has long been a hub for the people of the Farasan Islands who are always in connection with the place.

This is especially noticeable during summer, when people migrate to the village to escape from the heat.
For more than 50 years, Al-Qassar’s historic homes have witnessed vibrant ceremonies, as their walls were built with stones, roofed from palm tree fronds, and adorned with seashells and beautiful Arabic inscriptions.
Saudi historian and poet Ibrahim Moftah said that Al-Qassar is one of the first villages that was inhabited in the Arabian Peninsula hundreds of years ago. The village enjoys moderate weather, is covered with palm trees, and is full of fresh wells and rich in history and events, he added.
“Farasan was a deserted island on all levels and the love of change is in the nature of Jizani people, so they used to go to Al-Qassar for change,” he told Arab News.
He said that at the beginning of the month of April, the village becomes a top destination for those seeking moderate climates and potable water. “Water in Al-Qassar can be found at a depth of six meters, whereas it can only be found in Farasan at a depth of 23 meters.”
Previously, most travel and trips to Al-Qassar village were during what Farasani people call the “Shaddah” season, where families ride camels to travel.
People of Farasan would postpone their wedding ceremonies in order to travel to Al-Qassar in summer, where the weather is cool during the Shaddah season.
Those trips to the village were done in two phases: One morning trip for a bride, who rides a camel carrying water and boxes with accompanying music, and another second trip during the afternoon for families.
“The Farasan people used to celebrate new brides in Al-Qassar in a unique way, especially if the bride was in the first year of her marriage, amid the chants and songs of joy,” said Moftah. “A calm and trained camel is chosen, then they decorate the camels with beads, pearls and silk, and copper bells that are fixed to its ankles to make sounds as it walks.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• For more than 50 years, Al-Qassar’s historic homes have witnessed vibrant ceremonies, as their walls were built with stones, roofed from palm tree fronds, and adorned with seashells and beautiful Arabic inscriptions.

• Previously, most travel and trips to Al-Qassar village were during what Farasani people call the ‘Shaddah’ season, where families ride camels to travel.

• People of Farasan would postpone their wedding ceremonies in order to travel to Al-Qassar in summer, where the weather is cool during the Shaddah season.

Moftah said that before a bride’s trip to Al-Qassar, “young women gather at the bride’s house and start singing, then they start their trip with the bride in the forefront. The camels would also be carrying wooden boxes that used to arrive from Aden and are made in India, loaded with expensive clothes and perfumes. The bridesmaid accompanies the bride, and she is usually of a similar weight. Men and women would stand on the sides to wave goodbye to the bride’s procession.”
The bride is then received in Al-Qassar with jugs of water and chants.
However, Moftah said that “nowadays, there are no more camels in Farasan” and that “life has changed and these traditions ended 50 years ago,” as cars, modern homes and air-conditioners have become common and Al-Qassar is no longer an escape or a shelter for anyone, now only home to “deserted houses and souvenirs.”
According to the Saudi historian, official festivals and a surge in tourism “was not fair” to the history of Al-Qassar village, as older traditions were not properly represented. “The region has lost one of the most beautiful cultural traditions.”
Saudi tourist guide Yahya Abbas said that Al-Qassar village consists of old buildings and is located in the south of Farasan Island, and includes almost 400 houses fixed with tree fronds, small stones and sand “to prevent water leaks.”
He added: “The history of this village dates back to the Roman era, and there are writings and drawings dating back to the Himyarite era.
“The village is considered the largest palm oasis in the region, with plenty of fresh wells.”
Abbas said that Al-Qassar has now become an area for tourists and visitors who want to discover its history and that of the Farasan Islands, as well as view the ancient houses in the village.


Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians
Updated 06 May 2021

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians
  • Furious diva posts resignation letter insisting all Lebanese should express themselves freely and democratically
  • Resignation follows statement from chairman urging members to avoid political comments

BEIRUT: Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi has resigned from the Syndicate of Professional Artists after the body told members they could not criticize politicians.
Al-Zoghbi posted a two-page resignation letter on her Twitter account on Wednesday slamming the country’s ruling elite. 
She said there was a “negative influence” from all Lebanese politicians and political parties and accused them of sluggishness towards the country’s current economic and political crisis.
The Arabic music diva said she did not feel honored to sit back and watch her “beloved Lebanon and its people” sliding into the unknown.
Al-Zoghbi also addressed her five million followers on Instagram and 4.7 million followers on Twitter saying she would show unity and support to her fellow “decent citizens” by resigning from the Syndicate.
Last month, actor Jihad Al-Atrash, the Syndicate’s chairman, requested that members should not criticize or mention politicians or political parties. He added that freedom of expression remains respected and preserved within the parameters of the constitution.
His statement followed an attack on the house of actor Asaad Rachdan by supporters of MP Gebran Bassil, the head of Free Patriotic Movement.
During a TV interview, Rachdan had criticized President Michel Aoun , his son-in-law Bassil and their political party for their governance and blamed them for the current crises in Lebanon.
“I will not remain silent and I cannot be silenced except by killing me and I am not afraid to die,” he said.
Rachdan’s home was vandalized and Aoun’s photos were posted all around it.
Al-Atrash was heavily criticized for his statement after the attack and many artists and actors showed solidarity with Rachdan.  
Al-Zoghbi condemned the statement from Al-Atrash and the Syndicate, saying it was her obligation to back good citizens and support their demands for a better life. She said people should be able to express themselves and their opinions “freely and democratically.”
She described the Syndicate’s stance as “a dangerous and unprecedented move.”
She had been a member of the Syndicate for 20 years.
Lebanon is mired in political and economic crises as its politicians have failed to form a new government amid a financial collapse.
Many in the country are furious at the ruling elite and blame the current situation on decades of corruption and mismanagement.